Woody Allen’s early film comedies made me laugh a lot, but the laughs have come few and far between in most of his later movies. While Mighty Aphrodite contains more genuine humor than offerings like Bullets Over Broadway, performances by its leading ladies and by Allen himself leave much to be desired. Helena Bonham-Carter as Allen’s wife seems ridiculously miscast, and Mira Sorvino’s grating voice irritates rather than amuses me here. On the plus side, the filmmaker’s creative use of a traditional Greek Chorus, flamboyantly choreographed by Graciela Daniele, provides some outrageously funny scenes.
As the title suggests, Mighty Aphrodite focuses on the power of love. The story revolves around efforts of an adoptive father (Allen) to find and then change the behavior of his adopted son’s real mother Linda (Sorvino), a hooker and pornographic film actress. While trying to reform Linda, Allen’s character introduces her to Kevin, an aspiring, not-so-bright young boxer, played earnestly by Michael Rapaport. With Rapaport ad-libbing many of his lines, and Sorvino sticking to the script, their few scenes together work surprisingly well. Rapaport says that Allen directed him to portray Kevin as a real person and encouraged him to ad lib some of his dialogue. That turned out to be a good idea, mostly because Rapaport appears to be performing from the heart.
Mighty Aphrodite occasionally sparkles with witty dialogue reminiscent of Allen’s earlier films. For example, when asked by his son, “Who’s the boss, you or Mommy?” Allen replies, “I’m the boss; Mommy is only the decision-maker.” Unfortunately, even those moments plus cameo appearances by such fine actors as F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, Jack Warden and David Ogden Stiers fail to resurrect the old Allen magic.
At the beginning of this comedy, the Greek Chorus leader tells us, “Of all the human weaknesses, obsession is the most dangerous and the silliest.” In keeping with his admonition, Mighty Aphrodite ends with one of the silliest closing scenes recorded on film. However, obsessive movie fans might feel properly rewarded by watching this movie through to its musical comedy finale.
Still, with apologies to William Shakespeare, all is NOT well that ends well. I can’t help expecting more than a feel-good ending from a master filmmaker like Woody Allen.
(Released by Miramax films and rated “R” for language and sex-related material.)